Welcome to the inaugural edition of Meet the Members, wherein you get an intimate look at some of the National Film Society’s closest friends and biggest supporters. First up, Lynn Chen. Best known for her acting, Chen’s filmography includes Saving Face, Surrogate Valentine, and Yes, We’re Open. But she’s also a prolific blogger, celebrating year three of The Actor’s Diet. In part one our interview, she discusses her latest addition to the blogosphere, Thick Dumpling Skin—a body positive blog she co-founded with Lisa Lee, focused on the Asian American experience. She also discloses how film festivals are like marriage, what it’s like to work with up-and-coming director Dave Boyle, and we discover that her Surrogate Valentine co-star Goh Nakamura apparently knows everyone, ever. Let’s get started!
Courtney Jones: So how did you get involved with the National Film Society?
Lynn: I think I’d seen some of their videos because Joy Osmanski was on, and I think they’re friends with Goh Nakamura, actually, Patrick was in Surrogate Valentine although his part was so small, honestly I don’t remember the part. But I’ve only seen the movie once. Then they asked me to do a video a while ago. So now we see each other at all these events, and since then we’ve become friends. And I think they’re so cool, and everything they do is so funny.
How did you get involved with them?
C: Through your food blog, actually. You linked to the National Film Society awards, and after I watched it I started cycling through the rest of their videos. They were really great.
L: They’re great. Have you met them?
C: No, well, a lot of Skype, a lot of phone calls, but since the distance is so far and I’m working remotely I haven’t had a chance to meet them in person. But they seem nice on the internet!
L: It’s a brave new world right now. There’s no rules. Actor/writer/blogger/reviewer/everything!
C: And you! You’re a multi-hyphenate. You’ve got several blogs going.
L: Yeah. Oh stop.
C: Well you’ve got The Actor’s Diet, Thick Dumpling Skin. Do you want to talk at all about the beginnings of Thick Dumpling Skin?
L: Thick Dumpling Skin is about a year and half old now, and it started because I had known through my blog, through The Actor’s Diet that there was a specificity to culture and race, and food issues, that I didn’t really want to always to bring that up on my blog. I didn’t feel like my blog was a forum for that, but I knew there needed to be a place for it. And I’d always felt that way, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Then I heard Lisa Lee on NPR talking about how she’d gone to Taiwan and basically went to this diet camp, and it was completely acceptable culturally that she went with her mother. And for me listening to it, it was suddenly like “Oh my god, I’ve got to get in touch with this woman.” They were talking about exactly what I wanted to talk about. But everyone was saying it didn’t exist.
So I went on Facebook and we had twenty friends in common, including Goh Nakamura, he was at the top of the list, and then that afternoon we were already connected and talking. We felt like we didn’t know what we wanted to do, but we need to do something. What should do? A documentary? Should we write a book? And we realized this was a huge undertaking, so let’s stick to what we know and what’s manageable, right now. Blog. So that’s how it started, and now it’s evolved into a place where we don’t know if it’s as culturally specific as it was originally intended to be. Because now it’s more of a positive body image site more than it is a place where people talk about their stories. People used to send us their stories a lot more than they do now. Maybe now our readers don’t want to share. Like the story has been told way too many times. “I have a mother who thinks I’m fat.” And people don’t want to reiterate the same thing. So we’re kind of thinking of ways to expand, because Lisa and aren’t professionals, but we think it’s an important part of our community that needs to be addressed and have some sort of outlet. And we feel this sense of responsibility that if we go away, then there’ll be nothing. So we want to keep it going, but we’re curious as to how to keep doing it.
C: So you’ve had a really busy, eventful year with the release of three projects: Nice Girl’s Crew, Daylight Savings, and Yes, We’re Open, plus a revival showing of Saving Face at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. That must have been really exciting. How did you feel?
L: I don’t know if excited is the right word. I definitely was happy, really grateful for it. Such a unique experience. In general, I’m really, really grateful to be apart of this community. I never really thought I’d be in, but I’d hoped I’d be in, I didn’t know it was going to be possible, but part of me is humbled by the whole experience, but every time I went to a screening, I was really happy to be there. But the sheer physical exhaustion, and that’s why I say I wasn’t excited because of all the adrenaline, there was just so much of it. It’s funny, I’ve been with my husband for fifteen years now.
L: Thank you. You know, we’re still madly in love, but it’s not like it was for the first two years of our life together. So it’s the way I feel about film festivals. Since the first year I went to one I’ve had one in a festival, maybe two. This was the first year there were more than two. So for me it’s like, the first year is really exciting, you have all that passion, and you’re thinking about what I’m going to wear, and what I’m going to do. Then by year six or seven, even though it’s still awesome, I know the drill. I’m not spending hours getting ready.
C: It becomes a more honest experience, than moving through it in a haze of excitement.
L: Right. And that doesn’t make it any better or worse, it’s just very different than the first time for me. But it’s fun in a different way.
C: What other facets of filmmaking interest you? Would you direct, or write, or anything else?
L: Acting is definitely my first love. It’s what I always come back to. For me there’s nothing like being on set, being immersed in a character. When I’m working on a project, even if the conditions are not so wonderful, I almost always come home feeling fulfilled. So it’s my first love and I’m grateful that I have that, because some people don’t have that at all with anything. That said, what’s interesting for me, I’ve tried a little bit of writing, even dabbled in producing and gotten people cast in things. But those parts of things have yet to fulfill me.
C: What’s been your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?
L: I really love working with Dave Boyle because I feel like we have such mutual respect for each other as artists. I sound like a fucking hippie right now. God, stop Lynn. Anyway, I really think that he is an amazing filmmaker, who is just at the beginning of what is going to be a very long and very interesting career. So to work with him, especially so early on, almost feels like there’s something magical about it. And I feel that way every time I’m on one of his sets.
Courtney Jones is a writer and book reviewer in Chicago(land). Follow her on twitter @shymoxie.